PARIS (Reuters) – France is in the ‘final stage’ of negotiations to sell up to 36 Rafale warplanes to Qatar, a senior French source involved in the discussions said on Tuesday.
Manufacturer Dassault Aviation is also in talks aimed at supplying 16 of the multi-role combat jets to Malaysia and has resumed discussions over potential fighter sales to the United Arab Emirates (UAE), the source said.
“The discussions (with Qatar) are at the final stage,” the source said, asking not to be identified because of the sensitivity of the discussions.
Dassault Aviation declined to comment.
Analysts say the French company was boosted this week by a long-awaited first export deal for the Rafale with Egypt, but is likely to face intense competition for further sales as European, US and Russian rivals step up export campaigns.
It was not immediately clear at what level talks with UAE were taking place, nor which side had initiated them.
The UAE publicly rebuffed an offer to supply 60 Rafale jets in 2011, calling the proposal “uncompetitive and unworkable”.
Western defence contractors including Dassault, the four-nation Eurofighter consortium and US aerospace group Boeing are chasing overseas sales to prevent their production lines halting due to cuts in domestic defence budgets.
Tensions in the Middle East, instability in eastern Europe and concerns in parts of Asia about regional border threats and the rise of China have further fuelled the arms race, but shifts and sudden reversals in the various industry talks are common.
France said last June it was confident of winning a deal soon to supply fighter jets to Qatar, which is shopping initially for 24 jets plus 12 options to expand its air force.
Competitors include Boeing’s F-15 fighter jet, while the US manufacturer is also seeking sales for its declining F-18 model, which is reportedly in consideration in Malaysia.
Elsewhere in the Gulf, the Eurofighter and F-18 are competing for a possible Kuwaiti deal for 28 jets but the Rafale is not a leading contender there, according to French media.